The apparel industry is a 2.5 trillion-dollar industry for which I once thought I was lucky to be a part of. On a personal note, I quickly realize that I was part of a growing problem that impacted the world on the many levels of human rights, environmental degradation, and of course climate change. For someone looking into how fast fashion impacts the environment for the first time, the results might be dismal. For myself, it only confirms my reasons for departing the industry and affirms my desire to utilize my talents to be part of the environmental solution.
The apparel industry, being the second largest polluting industry behind the oil industry, is responsible for roughly 10% of all carbon emissions (Robinson, 2018). Speaking specifically to climate change we know that it is caused largely by CO2 and GHG emissions. Of course, “fast fashion” production, consumption, and disposal accounts for far more then CO2 emissions. “The multiple components of one garment” (Wicker, 2017) such as zippers, buttons, and packaging rely on coal power manufacturing plants, petroleum based polyesters and end up in GHG methane producing landfills. The entire lifecycle of an article of clothing has become and increasing problem in a little over a decade.
So, what is “fast fashion” and why is it a problem? Well short fashion cycles or seasons means faster turn-around times for factors and more fuel is needed to produce at higher speeds. The goods manufactured abroad then have to be transported by plane, rather than boat, consuming more fuel and energy. Furthermore, to ensure low prices distributers, retailers, and wholesalers have to purchase larger quantities of a style, which directly impacts the output of CO2 and GHG emissions from factories.
The “fast fashion” crisis has proven to be a difficult beast to tame. The growing demand for apparel in the developed economies is due to several factors; population growth, fast fashion, and aggressive marketing. As shown in the chart below, there is a huge disparity between producing nations and consuming nations.
Looking at the U.S, today less than 2% of clothing are manufactured onshore compared to 98% 70 years ago (Shaeli, 2016). As post-industrial nations are no longer producing the clothing, the polluting byproducts are not accounted as part of the country’s output but considered as indirect emission. This is why China and India rank highest in CO2, material, and water footprints compared to the U.S. However, even though climate impacts generated by clothing production are blamed on industrialized nations, developed non-industrial countries contribute during the process of consumption, maintenance, and disposal.
https://www.sciencedaily.com/images/2017/03/170314092800_1_540x360.jpg (Chalmers University of Technology, 2017)
So, what can you do as an indirect contributor to CO2 emissions and climate change impacts of “fast fashion”? Thinking back to my days as a merchandiser and brief stint as a fashion journalist, the “sustainable fashion” is a concept that is so easily thrown around in the industry. It has quickly gained momentum and very noticeable when large corporations such as H&M rolled out its recycled clothing program and Conscious collection (H&M Group, 2018). Fashion brands have since been scrambling to be included in the “new trend” of sustainability. But what does it mean for fashion to be sustainable and how can you do your part as an individual? The answer is simple though the practice may seem dauntingly inconvenient. We need to reduce the demand for hazardous fast fashion by reducing consumption.
The practice of conscious consumption means not buying into every seasons fashion, in fact it is anti-fashion. It can be about spending more for quality products that can be held for longer periods of time. It can also be purchasing products made in developed non-industrial countries where manufactures cannot easily bypass environmental standards regulations. Ideally, supporting local craftspeople in any nation/state and not big industries. It can also be about purchasing garments and accessories made from recycled materials or simply purchasing recycled “vintage” clothing. The point is we need to change the way we consume and push back at “fast fashion” marketing ploys of “Buy More, Save More”. Let’s instead Buy Less, Save More…our planet!
Chalmers University of Technology. (2017, March 14). Fashion industry gains new tools to reduce its environmental load. Retrieved from Sciencedaily.com: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170314092800.htm
Diana Ivanova, K. S.-O. (2015). “Environmental Impact Assessment of Household. Journal of Industrial Ecology, Volume 20, pg 526 -536.
H&M Group. (2018, November ). Sustainability. Retrieved from hm.com: http://about.hm.com/en/sustainability.html
Robinson, M. (2018, October 6). Mary Robinson: Changing the global climate, one person at a time. Retrieved from Irishtimes.com: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/mary-robinson-changing-the-global-climate-one-person-at-a-time-1.3651791
Shaeli. (2016, September 24). Fashion Faux Pas: How is The World’s 2nd Dirtiest Industry not a Topic at Climate Week? Retrieved from https://myrssreader.com: ttps://myrssreader.com/fashion-faux-pas-worlds-2nd-dirtiest-industry-not-topic-climate-week/
Wicker, A. (2017, March 15). We Have No Idea How Bad Fashion Actually Is for the Environment. Retrieved from Racked.com: https://www.racked.com/2017/3/15/14842476/fashion-climate-change-environment-pollution
Yehounme, D. D. (2017, July 5). The Apparel Industry’s Environmental Impact in 6 Graphics. Retrieved from Wri.org: https://www.wri.org/blog/2017/07/apparel-industrys-environmental-impact-6-graphics